By ARIEL HERNANDEZ
Jakiw Palij, 95, a former Nazi labor camp guard during the Holocaust who had long lived in Jackson Heights, was deported after being removed from his home on Monday.
According to the U.S. Justice Department and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Palij, who was born in Poland, was trained at the SS training camp in Trawniki in Nazi-occupied Poland in the spring of 1943. The documents filed by the Justice Department showed that men who trained at Trawniki participated in the Third Reich’s “Operation Reinhard,” which on Nov. 3, 1943 became one of the largest massacres during the Holocaust, killing approximately 6,000 Jewish men, women and children.
Palij immigrated to the United States in 1949 under the Displaced Persons Act, a law that allowed the country to accept approximately 200,000 refugees from post-war Europe. Palij became a U.S. citizen in 1957.
According to the department, Palij hid his Nazi status by telling immigration officials that during World War II, he had worked at his father’s farm until 1944.
“The United States will never be a safe haven for those who have participated in atrocities, war crimes and human rights abuses,” said Attorney General Jeff Sessions. “Jakiw Palij lied about his Nazi past to immigrate to this country and then fraudulently become an American citizen. He had no right to citizenship or to even be in this country.”
It wasn’t until 1993 that the Justice Department learned of Palij’s Nazi background and visited his home, where he was questioned about his participation in the concentration camp. He admitted to serving in Trawniki, but denied any involvement in the killings.
Palij was stripped of his citizenship in 2003 but Germany, Poland, Ukraine and several other countries refused to take him, leaving Palij in his Jackson Heights home with his wife.
Following a number of rallies to deport Palij, and a letter sent to the State Department in September by the New York Congressional Delegation, Palij was deported from the United States to Germany.
“Today marks a solemn victory for the Queens community, who has, for years, demanded this justice for victims of the Holocaust and their families,” said U.S. Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights). “Jackson Heights is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in America, and the presence of a former Nazi guard in the heart of our neighborhood violated our most cherished values of love, equality and acceptance.”
Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said he was pleased that the government negotiated with Germany to take back Palij.
“Those who are accomplices to the horrific crimes of the Holocaust, the worst mass genocide in history, will never be accepted in our free and civilized society,” Weprin said. “It was an affront to justice that Nazi prison guard Jakiw Palij was allowed to enter our country and live freely in the most diverse place in the United States. Our government has served this monster justice by permanently removing him from the country and deporting him to Germany to face charges for his transgressions at the Trawniki concentration camp.”
The Central Office for Investigation of Nazi Crimes in Germany said that there is not enough evidence to prosecute Palij.
“Mere membership in the SS or even training in the Trawniki camp is no longer prosecutable under our current law,” said Jens Rommel, who heads the agency. “That means we would have to prove, here in Germany, that an individual has either committed a murder on his own or has supported the murders of others through his actions.”
Palij is currently in a nursing home in Germany.
Reach Ariel Hernandez at (718) 357-7400, ext. 144, firstname.lastname@example.org or @reporter_ariel.